India’s Uprising Against Corruption

An unprecedented anti-corruption campaign has spread across India as veteran Gandhian activist Anna Hazare sits in a hunger strike in New Delhi for the eight day in a row. The cause is one that touches everyone: ridding India of corruption for good.

Though corruption has been an old endemic scourge, this is the first time that citizens from all walks of life, cutting across distinctions of caste, class, creed, region, religion and status, have come up in unison in this historic quest for a transparent, fair and just society. The complete disgruntlement with moneymaking political leaders and countless scams unearthed in recent past can be said to have decided the timing of this nascent revolution.

Addressing an almost hundred-thousand strong congregation that came out in full support of this campaign, Anna roared, “If the government does not get the [anti-corruption] Jan Lokpal Bill passed by August 30, there would be an unprecedented revolution in the country by the people…. The government will have to either get the Bill passed [in Parliament] or go…I have been fighting against corruption for the past 20 years. The government has betrayed the citizens of the country on the Lokpal issue. They constituted a joint committee after my fast in April. But nothing came out of that meeting despite talking for two months. The government’s intention to fight corruption is not noble.”

Anna has an eminent team comprising of Arvind Kejriwal (ex-IITian and 2006 Ramon Magasaysay award winner), Dr. Kiran Bedi (distinguished First woman Indian Police Service officer turned activist), Prashant Bhushan (lawyer and activist), Shanti Bhushan (architect of Lokpal Bill) and Swami Agnivesh (Indian politician and Arya Samaj scholar).

Braving every natural element and traveling large distances, people are swarming to protest in civil and peaceful ways at the central Ramlila Maidan grounds in Delhi Heeding Anna’s call, masses of people demonstrated outside official residences of various ministers including Kapil Sibal, Shiela Dikshit and Pranab Mukherjee, and faced arrests for their actions. Anna himself was arrested at Rajghat, which is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. At the time of the arrest, Anna was in meditative prayer before launching his campaign. He was put in the notorious Tihar Jail, but public support forced the government to release him.

From there on, Anna continued his fast from Ramlila Maidan and anti-corruption campaign protests started popping up across the country. More than 300 people from diverse states like Manipur, Assam, Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have voluntarily joined hunger strike at the Maidan.

On the seventh day of his fast, Hari Singh Surayi, 78, said, “I was a forest officer in Bulandshahar and even though I worked for 20 years with the government I made very little money in comparison to others. As a result, my children couldn’t study in a private school. I want this cycle to end and I don’t mind even if I die trying to fight this battle.”

The legions of Ana followers demand for the passage of Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Anna’s Team vis-à-vis the government’s Lokpal Bill. The Jan Lokpal Bill is a people’s anti-corruption ombudsman with powers to hold everyone from prime minister, members of Parliament, judiciary and lower bureaucracy among many others accountable. It also seeks to establish protection for whistle-blowers, witnesses and victims of corruption.

To convert protest into discerning support, anti-corruption leader Dr. Kiran Bedi extolled her famous “dial 101” example: “Just the way ambulance comes to your rescue once you dial 101, the Lokpal officers will arrive to investigate every complaint of corruption. If anyone again asks you how the Lokpal will help fight corruption, you say this to them.”

At the eminent Indian Institute of Technology locals and students staged protests and some students even refused to accept their degrees at an annual convocation with the Prime Minister in support of Ana’s campaign. Muslims have also pitched in their support to this campaign, calling to extend unequivocal support to anti-corruption issues raised by the Gandhian leader.

Protests Gather

At the site of the massive hunger strike in New Delhi are whole families with children in tow, young couples, old folks, students, journalists, corporate on leave, rural people, sex workers, film stars, film makers and more who are swarming the grounds, listening intently to every speech of Anna’s Team and cheering and clapping at every occasion. One slogan reappears regularly: “Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain” (Anna, we are with you in this struggle).

The government has reacted to this uprising by moving extremely slowly and alleging a “foreign” (read American) hand in movement, and then calling it “misconceived” and dangerous for democracy. Now the government has called for an all-party meeting – but political standoff has resulted in adjournment of Parliament session. Most recently there has been discussion of the finance minister being appointed as negotiator to talk to Anna about the anti-corruption bill and persuade him to call off his fast.

The deep roots of corruption in the socio-economic-political sphere have generated an enormous deficit in trust between the ruled and rulers. This anti-corruption movement appears here to stay until a final resolution is reached.

As Swarn Kanta, a die hard anti-corruption campaigner says, “The beauty of this battle is that victory will be for every citizen. If Mahatma Gandhi is recognized as `Father of our Nation’, Anna may emerge as `Father of the World’ by inspiring the entire global community to relentlessly fight against corruption.”

Priyanka Bhardwaj is a journalist in India.